Deflection Politics: Tried and True Tactics

(Or…the Soothing Sound of Katydids)

It is evening here, in North Carolina, where House Bill 2 (the first of the “bathroom” bills) once loomed heavily, casting a storm of attention over our lives and giving the shelter of darkness to vigilantism and public policing of rest rooms all around us. Now, we live in the aftermath of the Bill’s year-long reign before the quasi-repeal, it’s protracted moratorium, and the reality that the damage was already done.

Repeal or no repeal, we gender-expansive folks had already been tossed onto the unholy alter of deflection politics and set ablaze, like a ritual bonfire before a sacrifice, drawing attention to our lives and inciting a special brand of hate-induced hysteria. Whereas, before HB2, trans and gender-diverse folks had lived in the relative safety of an equally troubling and problematic invisibility, large numbers of fearful people were suddenly all-too aware of us, empowered with false “education” about the danger we pose the “women and children” of decent people, and all frightened, unblinking eyes were watching anyone who looked like they might be trans…whatever that really looks like. Because there was, in the quasi-repeal, no acknowledgement of wrong-doing on the part of North Carolina law makers and there was no effort to correct the harmful misinformation invoked against us, the repeal-that-isn’t might as well never have happened. People who, for years, had been in public rest rooms with us and never knew it, people who had passed us, unaware, on city sidewalks and in shopping malls—people who sat next to us in movie theaters or, even more scandalous, in church pews—were, ever-after, turning a searching and suspicious eye to the person whose gender expression struck them as somehow off, somehow gender-transgressive.

The damage was done. The deflection from other pressing and important, though related, concerns stymying a just society was achieved. Issues of ruling-class power-mongering like the drawing of voting district lines, Medicaid expansion, living wage initiatives, and all manner of issues related to the lives and needs of the people at large were cast to the shadows of collective awareness as a huge, glaring light was cast on us and our unruly audacity to express our own gender self-understanding. It is no accident that HB2 was cast in the dark of night, in back office conversations and drafts, and approved the next day during a period of sustained political outcry (through the Forward Together movement) in response to the very issues that HB2 was crafted to divert.
This was, in fact, exactly the point.

The employment of deflection politics serves, at the least and immediately, two significant functions for the preservation of power. First and foremost, such tactics serve to increase negative public opinion toward a group of persons who are already outcast subjects of direct socio-political marginalization, fear, and hate-based discrimination. Thus, the already stigmatized become even more stigmatized; the already despised become more widely despised. The primary byproduct of deflection tactics is the creation of greater divisiveness among the populace, who are already competing for increasingly limited resources, and production of a measured unlikelihood that the people will unite against the governing elite. Consequently, emotional, verbal, and physical violence against such persons increases as the fear and hatred increase—if a few more of these persons meet with a bad end, it is no great loss, so the sentiment goes. To be clear, deflection politics begin with a pre-existing bias—or outright hatred—against a particular group and then pours accelerant on the existing, but low-burning fire.

The second intended function is that of diverting attention away from the other business as usual on the part of the governing body by creating an emotionally charged frenzy of fear, public panic, and outraged aggression in the general masses and an equal and opposing defensive, survival-based response in the targeted group. With a sufficient amount of distraction, the governing elite can engage all manner of other policy-making, legislation, and empire-building to preserve, increase, and promote their power. Deflection is an effective tool. And it has been employed by the powerful since the dawn of empire-building. In this country, deflection and scapegoating have been the tools of the powerful since the Crown began sending the poor, the unwanted, the low and expendable over here to build the colonies on indentured “contract” long before there were any Articles of Confederation, let alone a Constitution. The creation of increasingly creative deflection and scapegoating paradigms has kept people in divisive competition around a long list of contrived factors: gender, class, race, religion, ability, to name only the primary structural “isms” out of which all the other isms arise.
These are the continuing sins of our white European, cis-gender male, Christian predecessors.

It is nightfall, now. The summer sun has finally set on the day that He-Who-Is-Not-My-President utilized his primary method of enacting policy—Twitter—to announce his wish to reinstate the ban on transgender persons serving, “in any capacity,” in the armed forces. This, as we all watch with varying measures of anxiety, the evolving progression of yet another rest room Bill in Texas (SB 3).
The fire on the unholy alter flares.

The immediate and somewhat frenzied reactions to 45’s anti-trans tweet only serve to show how effective the tactics of deflection politics really are. My ability to pay attention to it all has worn as thin as the increasingly less humid evening air. The ether is practically sizzling with reactionary panic as if yet another in a long list of hate-speak tweets from our want-to-be emperor actually changes existing policy. It does not. Any change on the policy regarding transgender service in the military requires a decision from the Department of Defense. All the buzz is focused around this moment of distracting hate-speak. The deflection is working.
More than a potential to affect policy, 45’s tweet raises a greater kind of harm.

We gender-expansive folks, at various levels of experience, live in a rather constant state of inescapable exposure to all manner of negating, soul-wounding messaging. The effects of these messages on both our individual sense of self and our ability to cope are cumulative. Additionally, negative messages to our gender self-understanding are compounded when our lived experience intersects with other marginalized factors such as race, ability, or religious identity. When particularly harmful language (reminiscent of early American colonization) such as, “burden,” “tremendous disruption,” is spewed out into the public consciousness, followed by a call to “ban” these persons, it carries a certain emphasis. More, it invites others to follow suit.
The fires smolder on. Not unlike the southern, summer humidity that sticks the heat of the day to tender skin.

I wonder if our collective outrage might be more appropriately centered around the deeply problematic Presidential use of Twitter to spout derogatory, hate-instilling, and factless language that fans the flames of pre-existing bias against transgender and gender-diverse persons—or, for that matter, any other group. More pointedly, might it be worth our earnest analysis of why, collectively, we acquiesce to this behavior and, from there, vision-crafting a movement toward correction? Our collective, functional tolerance of this man’s continuous use of aggressively mean-spirited, hateful, and intentionally divisive language is a deplorable abdication of our own responsibility as citizens of the world, as well as our insidious participation in an ongoing oppression of ourselves and our fellow humans. These concerns, for me, are essential elements of conceiving ways to move resistance into purposeful action and action to meaningful, sustainable change—the ponderings that keep me up at night these sticky, summer nights.
In the meantime, this night, the air is finally cooler and the screened porch is an old friend, calling me to quieter reflection. The katydids are singing, accompanied by crickets. And, lulled by night-songs, my thoughts turn to other things: like, the marvel of how soothing it is to listen, deeply, to the rhythmic, harmoniously layered, pulsing drone of katydids, given subtle texture by the resonate crickets. There is no silence like this silence.
The questions will keep. And, in the lush absence of hate-speak, I’m reminded tomorrow is another day.


About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, theological activist, writer, trans activist-advocate, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through workshops, support activities, and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the intersecting layers of disenfranchisement and oppression which stymie our efforts to create a just and meaningful common good. I work with, consult with, educate, train public sector groups, secular groups, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of trans/non-binary and gender non-conforming persons. This space is a small part of the work.
This entry was posted in Trans-Politic: Political Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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